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Rally backs National Gallery strike

Published 30/05/2015

Protesters outside the National Gallery in a row over the privatisation of services
Protesters outside the National Gallery in a row over the privatisation of services

Union groups have joined together in central London to support striking National Gallery staff and send an anti-privatisation message to the Government.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union at the National Gallery are currently mid-way through a 10-day strike - which hit this week's school holidays - following a bitter dispute over plans to outsource services.

The conflict worsened when union rep Candy Udwin was suspended before the first strike action in February and subsequently sacked.

The striking staff, who wore gags and held a banner which read "we will not be silenced", were supported by hundreds of union members outside what is one of the country's flagship art venues in Trafalgar Square as their fight spread through the union movement.

A spokeswoman for the PCS said it is a time for unions "to stand together for our threatened rights".

Ms Udwin was applauded as she walked on stage. She said: "We're not going to let them turn (the National Gallery) in to a playground for the rich, because that's what they want to do with their corporate sponsors.

"We're not going to let them bully us, or silence us by sacking me. We've got to turn the tide because this Government is coming for us.

"They're coming to attack us, our freedom of speech, our human rights and our trade union rights. We've got to turn the tide and not let them do that. We need solidarity."

Film director Ken Loach, Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger and comedian Kate Smurthwaite supported the rally.

Mr Wallinger criticised the Conservative Government for having "no place for the arts" in its education policy.

He told the crowds: "In this world arts and music are given no value and our great cultural institutions are viewed as unproductive corporations and the rights of the people who work there are being cut out by this Government.

"I sincerely believe progress can and must be made on both sides, let's hope this happens soon."

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "The National Gallery is a much-loved institution and it must be stopped from damaging its own reputation. It must halt this pointless privatisation and reinstate staff member and PCS rep Candy Udwin immediately.

"This could be the future for all of us unless we act now. As a new Tory Government announces its intention to pass a union-busting bill, it is vital that this rally is also a mass protest against victimisation and attacks on our rights."

A gallery statement said: "The PCS opposes the introduction of a new roster for some visitor facing and security staff, which would enable us to operate more flexibly.

"As a result of the PCS position, we are now appointing an external partner to manage these services. Affected staff will transfer across; there will be no job cuts, and terms and conditions will be protected.

"We are one of the last major national UK museums to take this step.

"We believe the proposed changes are essential to enable us to deliver an enhanced service to our six million annual visitors for many years to come, and to remain as one of the world's leading art galleries. It is unfortunate the PCS union do not share this aspiration with us.

"In addition, the National Gallery has just announced it will pay the London Living Wage."

Meanwhile anti-austerity protesters marched to Westminster Bridge where they unfurled a banner above the river aimed at the new Tory government.

The UK Uncut campaign group led supporters from Waterloo to the riverside where they stopped to paint the banner.

Facing towards the House of Parliament, the banner read: "Austerity is a Lie".

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